Blogzilla Vs. the King of e-portfolios: how and why to best document student learning?

I’m just back from my first #Learning2 conference experience in Warsaw…

…I had a great weekend, met some likeminded educators and had my eyes opened to a number of new apps, strategies and approaches. The Learning2 experience is worthy of a separate post and I will return to give it the attention it deserves but for now, I want to zero in on the focus of my pre-conference workshop – e-portfolios: and how we define, identify and implement them. Used incorrectly, these terms are perceived as digital mega-monsters out to force all learning online but in reality, whilst terminology matters, the most successful documentation of student learning is likely to rely on a hybrid of both.

“We define documentation as the practice of observing, recording, interpreting, and sharing through a variety of media the processes and products of learning in order to deepen and extend learning … These physical traces allow others to revisit, interpret, reinterpret, and even re-create an experience.”

Visible Learners” by Krechevsky, Mardell, Rivard, & Wilson,

The documentation of student learning is a vital part of the learning cycle and yet one that seems to be so easily overlooked. As technology replaces and reimagines established methods of knowledge curation (exercise book/journal/binder/writing tool), teachers are left chasing ways to ensure that the work their students create is stored appropriately. We also need to consider the life cycle of a piece of work because if we don’t encourage students to collect examples of their best practise, to share with teachers, peers and parents, what message are we sending out about the importance and validity of what they create?

Kimberly House, EdTech specialist at the Bavarian International School ran a Learning2 pre-con session entitled DOCUMENTING  LEARNING WITH PORTFOLIOS and in light of the questions above, I was quick to sign up. Here are some the significant questions and possible answers that I took from Kim’s thought provoking session (a padlet overview of some key ideas can be found here):

  1. What’s the difference between a blog and portfolio? Do they have to be mutually exclusive?

portfolio

noun port·fo·lio \pȯrt-ˈfō-lē-ˌō\ – a selection of a student’s work (as papers and tests) compiled over a period of time and used for assessing performance or progress

blog

noun \ˈblȯg, ˈbläg\ – a website that contains online personal reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks, videos, and photographs provided by the writer; also :  the contents of such a site

I’ve had several experiences recently where discussion of the terms portfolio and blog has antagonised normally mild mannered teachers desperate to defend their students’ right not to blog or share beyond the confines of a tightly walled virtual garden. These terms appear controversial and are certainly interpreted differently according to context and speaker. Personally, I’ve been sceptical of students using blogs as portfolios because, as the Merriam Webster definitions above indicate, they are different beasts. Key terms of distinction leap out in the form of ‘work’ versus ‘reflections’ and the phrase ‘ for assessing performance or progress’. As an English teacher, semantics matters and the devil really is in the detail.

With this in mind, a top takeaway from Kim’s session was the role that categorisation and effective tagging can have in allowing students to differentiate between posts on a blog that are explicit examples of academic best work and those that may be more personal reflective pieces. Making students aware of this process could help to effectively embrace and reflect the complex nature of blogging rather than forcing an oversimplification that undermines its value.

     2. If we expect students to put maximum effort into producing products and                    assessments, shouldn’t we do more to respect and celebrate what they create?

I see connections here to another recent PD experience I’ve had with Dylan Wiliam talking about turning feedback into feedforward. At high school level and certainly in the English classroom, we are encouraging students to recognise that they are on a journey to become better communicators and writers over time.  Encouraging learners to archive written tasks and review them again at key check points could be a meaningful way to engage them more directly in the learning process and to recognise where progress was actually made. Tanmay Vora explores this notion in a post on when does learning really happen? which goes some way towards supporting Wiliam’s concept of helping students to close the gap in their learning by identifying themselves at a point in a fluid process.

     3. Can we do more to ensure that the ‘display’ of student work is an active                        process rather than a passive outcome?

Investing time in involving students in the effective documentation of their learning could positively influence how we report and interact with parents. Apps like ThingLink enable students to make photographs and documents come alive by linking in video and audio files. Tools like this could enable students to ‘step inside’ their work and unpack learning in a way that a standard google drive folder or work on the wall simply can’t. When combined with padlet walls, ThingLink also becomes a hugely powerful tool for students to share work, reflections and assessment tips with their peers. Both situations provide examples of students having to go further to explain their learning and could be used at the centre of dynamic student led conferences. What I don’t agree with is students’ online portals being used for explicit task specific reflection or anything to do with referencing specific academic grades. For me, this is where English teachers can play a role in clarifying the audience and purpose of a blog in order to discourage it from being used as a place to publicly share academic concerns. Working with our Tech expects and considering models like SAMR could help to evaluate the best steps to take.

 

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Our session also explored a world in which e-portfolios replace the need for student reports but I think this requires really careful curation and could only happen in conjunction with a open online grade book.

Ultimately, I think that terminology matters and that we should talk more about effective documentation that we should about blogs and or as portfolios. Selecting platforms and methods suitable for the stage the students are at is also really important and a great reason to encourage more cross divisional collaboration because the platform may change but the language should stay constant.

Thanks to Kim & Co. at Learning2 for an awesome session and the chance to really drill down into a an issue that could and should be relevant to us all. Online tools offer great potential to document the narrative of student learning but it does depend on which story you want to tell…

 

 

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